I don’t know anyone who likes to suffer, do you? Yet, everyday we see countless people suffering all around the world. Does their suffering serve a purpose? Why do some of the most godliest people come down with some of the most awful, painful, terminal diseases, while people who are ungodly seem to sail through life? I have heard atheists ask the question if God is so good, why is there suffering in the world? Or, why doesn’t God step in and stop all the evil in the world? I think that we may never fully know the complete answers to each of these questions this side of Heaven, because none of us are God, nor do we have the mind of God. However, we can surmise some here about some of the suffering that we may personally experience.
I’ve read the Old Testament book of Job several times. And, the first time through the book, it seemed to me like what happened to Job was more like a mean-spirited crude bet between God and Satan, with Job as the object. But you have to dig deeper into the book to understand it’s purpose. Yes, Job suffered greatly during his oppression by Satan. First, he lost his oxen and donkeys along with servants tending them. Second, he lost his sheep and the servants tending them. Third, he lost his camels and the servants that were tending the camels. Fourth, he lost all 10 of his children. In one day, Job, who was the “greatest of all people in the east,” lost almost everything, except his wife. What follows during the duration of that book, tends to follow what we believers do with others that are suffering through a great tragedy. His friends come along side Job, while we see poor Job sitting with ripped clothes, covered in ashes, and afflicted with boils. They sit in silence for seven days, as a mourning period, just being there with Job. Eventually they speak to Job and in typical fashion Job’s friends surmises that Job must be suffering because he sinned. We too have a tendency to think that the suffering of other Christians must be because of some great sin that they are covering up. But, as in the case of Job, there were other things going on in the background that we don’t know about. So, it’s obvious to me that we should not sit in judgement of other Christians when they experience tragic circumstances. Once it is determined that Job will not curse God, the “bet” and Job’s suffering is over. And, Job is blessed doubly for what he had before, he even gets seven more sons and three more daughters.
Job asks some of the very same questions of God that we may too ask when we are experience our own sufferings. And, God answers Job, with rhetorical questions of His own. God basically tells Job that we simply cannot fathom some things that happen. Since we don’t have the mind of God, we cannot possibly begin to comprehend how God deals out divine justice. Therefore, if we can’t understand God’s mind we cannot expect to ask God to justify His actions simply based upon our limited understanding.
Upon reflection, it became my personal opinion that Job suffered these things not as a cruel bet between God and Satan, but rather, Job suffered through this experience to teach us all something. And that lesson is that there are very important things we can learn during our own suffering, and through observing others going through suffering.
I had a friend whose loving husband died from a rare disease, he was a very godly young man in his very early 30’s, as was his wife. They were wildly in love with each other, and with Jesus. They had two beautiful young children. When he got ill we rallied around him and his family. And while we prayed for healing, this man and his wife displayed great faith. I never heard them say “why me?” I only heard them express their love and faith in Christ. And through their witness, both the man and his wife demonstrated in their actions, and words, what a life with Christ at the center looked like. Yes, he died, and we were sad to see him go. But, in the process many unbelievers witnessed true Christian faith in action. And some came to Christ through that experience.
When we are faced with trials that don’t have an apparent reason, we can be sure that God is in the background working something that will show God’s glory through us – if we let God be God that is. We know that God works out all things for the good of those who love Him. We know that God loves us and wants the best for us. We also know that just because we believe in God, and are His child, we still will have bad things happen to us. It’s up to us to continue to demonstrate God’s love in our thoughts, words, and actions no matter what the condition of our life is.
It’s a tall order for sure, and can only be done through Christ in us.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)
P.S.: There is opportunity for each of us when we see suffering in this world for us as Christians to come alongside and lend a hand also. We shouldn’t just think that all suffering should be seen as an opportunity for someone to come to faith, or to experience growth in their faith – and that we should be hands off. Rather we should examine a situation, and ask God if this circumstance is something in which He wants us to help others. It may just be that God is using a situation to allow us to step up and demonstrate His love in a tangible, visible manner.